My dog thinks her toy is her baby



“She’s so cute, she carries that toy around like it’s her puppy.”

“I know, she even growls when I try to take it. So cute!”

“Aww … she’s protecting it. If I try to put it away, she sits and cries for her baby. Haha!”

Have you ever caught yourself saying something like this? I made up the above conversation, but I hear similar comments all the time. I’ve even encouraged my own dog to carry a stuffed toy around because I think it’s cute. But that’s the problem. We think it’s cute when really it’s unhealthy for a dog to obsess over a toy.

Dogs know their toys are not real.

When a dog carries her toy around all day, it is most likely because she is obsessive or possessive about the toy. She does not think it is real. She knows it’s not her puppy, unless it’s a rare instance where the female dog is having a false pregnancy. Most of the time, though, it’s us humans who create emotional attachments to stuffed animals. Dogs know better.

A dog with pent-up energy easily takes that frustration and fixates on a toy or several toys. If the dog is not given exercise, mental challenges or rules on a daily basis, the obsession on the toy grows because she has no other outlet for her energy.

We humans think it’s cute to see our dogs obsess over a toy so we even encourage the behavior. We say things over and over in an excited voice like, “Where’s your puppy?” Or, “Where’s your ball?” And then we overdo the praise and attention. We reward the obsessive behavior without even realizing it.

Obsessing over a toy can lead to aggression.

Black lab mix holding a stuffed animal toy

If your dog growls when you try to take her toy away, it’s not cute. I see owners of small breeds like Chihuahuas encouraging their dogs to growl because they think it’s funny. Encouraging aggressive behavior in a dog is never funny. A five-pound dog can bite someone pretty badly, especially a child who has her face up to the dog.

We think it’s cute if a rottweiler carries a stuffed puppy around all day. We like to nurture small, cute things, so we like it when our dogs do the same. We like the idea that our dog has her own “baby.” Many of us carried around stuffed animals as a kid, so it’s heartwarming to us when our dogs do the same.

Even when a rottweiler growls as someone tries to take her toy, it’s easy to overlook the behavior if the dog is gentle in all other situations. The only time my old golden retriever growled at me was when I tried to take her rawhide bone away. Since I knew she would never hurt anyone, I didn’t take her growling too seriously. But even she would snap if I tried to take her bone. This was a behavior I should not have put up with, but I didn’t know better at the time.

Of course, just because a dog loves a certain toy doesn’t mean she has issues. Just learn what the difference is between a normal dog playing and a dog that is starting to become possessive of the toy.

Signs of possessiveness to watch for:

  • The dog growls, bites, barks or snaps when someone tries to take the toy.
  • She refuses to give up a toy.
  • The dog cries or searches for a toy once it is put away.
  • The dog is fixated on the toy.
  • She starts fights with other dogs when the toy is in the room.
  • The dog intentionally or accidentally snaps at hands to grab the toy before it’s been given to her.
  • She takes the toy and hides in a corner.
  • The dog is very submissive and the toy is the one thing she “controls.”
  • The dog is dominant and aggressive around other objects such as food or bones.

Ways to prevent possessiveness:

  • Set time limits on when the dog can have the toy, maybe 10 minutes at a time.
  • Make sure the dog understands that the toy is yours and you can take it whenever you want.
  • Teach your dog the “leave it” command.
  • Keep the toy out in the dog’s sight, but don’t let her have it until you say so.
  • Don’t encourage obsessive, possessive or aggressive behavior.
  • Make sure your dog gets enough exercise.
  • Set rules for your dog and follow through.

Is your dog possessive about anything? My dog is obsessed with tennis balls, and he will growl at certain dogs if they try to take a bone from him.

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  1. Alexa on October 1, 2011

    I’m so glad someone pointed this out, my dog goes through this every few months of pretty much all these symptoms with one toy or so and cries obsessively when I have to leave, my mom and I have been thinking that since she hasn’t been spayed she is going through a thing where she wants puppies, my only question is what do I do since she’s already 5 years old? Certain boundries won’t work now, it isn’t like she’s still a puppy and hasn’t learned the rules, if we spring a new rule on her, like not letting her have a toy, for no reason she’ll think she’s done something wrong, that’s what my poodle book says, and she can’t go outside because of having respitory problums, so what do I do?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on October 3, 2011

      You can certainly change her rules. Dogs adapt easily. Just take the toys away and distract her with something else. Work on obedience training. Play a game of tug.

      Or, if this isn’t a problem, just let her carry a toy around every few months.

    • #CanadianBacon on July 15, 2014

      Why does my dog(Female)always whine if I carry her by her by her arms

  2. victoria on October 8, 2011

    my lil maltese loves this toy we call barney. there are tow of them. she tots them about and brings them to bed at night and other tines, just forgets about them. she knows when to ‘drop it’ and she knows if i take it to help her up on the couch (for example) she’ll get barney back. i don’t think she’s too horribly obsessed, though caesar milan might think so. interesting note, the sibling dog kills all toys. i mean ALL toys. he’s a chewer from hell. but he won’t kill barney. he inherently knows the maltese will kick his butt if he does. strange that.

  3. Shirley on October 16, 2011

    Lindsay I have had two dog that thought thier toy was thier puppy the first time was right after my 1st son was born she cried like she was in pain & then later caried her toy all around with her & licked it, her tits started to fill up we were really worried took her to the vet,Whenever the vet said it was not uncommon & they gave us meds to help her & dry her milk that she had started to make. The 2nd one once again we took to the vet just to make sure once again they said she was okay & that it was not unusual. Sometimes its when they feel left out (such as when you bring home a new baby or another pet) .If you notice all most all of these dogs that do this are females. It seems when you are really close to the pet & something big changes in the household or right after they are in heat & their hormones do not return to normal right afterwards this seems to occur. Thanks for hearing me out .

  4. nicky on October 17, 2011

    well my dog does this and she is WELL entertained. also she does not snap or do any of the other things you said they do, so im sorry but i think your statement is a load of crap!

  5. Nancy M. on February 2, 2012

    Thank you so much. What you say makes so much sense & is right on the money. My Chiquita became very possessive over a stuffed frog. She wouldn’t let it out of her sight and would growl at anything that came near it. She does everything you listed. She’s always been very energetic & since I became disabled and unable to take her for walks or to the park I totally get it. I know now what I have to do to allow her to get back to her normal self and back on both of our way to recovery.

  6. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 4, 2012

    So glad I could help!

  7. Lavonne on March 10, 2012

    Hi Lindsay, my poodle is having the exact symptoms as what you mentioned above. And so, we took her toy away and kept it at the place she can never reach. But she goes to every corner of the house crying and sniffing. She looks so miserable and has this heaving panting which she hardly had it in the past. She doesn’t want to do anything other than searching for that toy. We brought her out for a walk but still she sniffs around when she gets home. I’m worried. She’s crying again. What should I do now ?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 10, 2012

      Distract her with something like obedience training for highly valued treats (real chicken, cheese, etc.). Or offer her a Kong toy filled with goodies like peanut butter. Have her do something like sit or lie down before she gets it so she associates the reward for the behavior she just did (not the crying).

  8. Ray on April 19, 2012

    yeah, i have a question, i found this site because i searched “my dog thinks her toys are her puppies” …ur explanation above sounds completely logical but i think our situation is somewhat different. she has always loved her toys and pretty much played with them when we would get her interested…but we recently had her spayed and a day later she was obsessed with her toys…she knows if one is missing, she crys if she cant find them, she baths them, she has all of them in her bed and lays with them. she will not leave the bed, she has lost weight and wont even leave the bed to eat, we had to bring her food and water to her bed. the vet said she was “nesting” and gave us some meds to give her…said that she would be over it in a few days and she was, with meds she cared nothing for the toys, but now that we are out, its right back to being SUPER MOM!!! what should we do, just keep medicating her or what???

    THANKS, stressed out SUPER OWNER!!! hahahaha

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 21, 2012

      I would stop catering to her by bringing her food to her bed and that type of thing. Just get her out doing normal dog things like going for walks. Put all her toys away. Have one toy out at a time and if she starts going into that state of mind, just put the toy in an closet with the door shut. Distract her with a walk if needed or have her work on obedience-type commands for a treat.

      I wouldn’t want to keep her on meds all the time, either.

  9. Ray on April 19, 2012

    sorry, its me again, left out a major factor…she has 26 toys of different shapes and sizes!!! its driving her and US…CRAZY!!!

  10. kerrie on May 2, 2012

    my dog got like this, it was squeaky toy and she used to squeak asif to check it was still alive, she never got aggresive about it, she had other toys that she didn’t treat the same, we considered taking her to the vets after a couple of days cuz she started taking it outside every time we took it off her she would go mad, and she wouldn’t eat we left her to it but after it really started to worry me so i got her excited to go for a walk (when we mention wee wee she knows its time to go out and it was the only time she left her toy for a few seconds then realise she left her toy) then my partner took it from her bed behind her back we didnt give her chance to look for it and when we ame back and she noticed it wasn’t there she went crzy looking for it at first but we ignored her and carried on like normal and eventually she forgot about (as far as i know) i keep considering giving it her back or not because she has seemed depressed lately but then i dont want her to be the same way with that toy she still has her other toys that she isn’t obsessed over.

  11. Frankie on June 6, 2012

    I have had a male chihuahua for 13 1/2 years and he has always carried a toy squirrel around. He does not bite if you get it but he does want it back. He shakes it and trys to get you to play with it and throw it. He sleeps with it and carries it around everywhere he goes. He gets plenty of exercise and I think he just likes the comfort of having his own toy. He has never bothered any other toy nor has he ever chewed on anything other than his toy. I think it comforts him and see no reason to take it away from him. Hey there is only one life to live and if it is not causing any problems then why take something that away that he enjoys.

  12. angie on November 2, 2012

    I have a 4 year old chi mix who has become obsessed with a stuffed animal. She barely sleeps at night and will not really even come around us (she was until about 2 weeks ago, a total lap dog) Its like she is scared that the stuffed animal is hurt or something. She stays off by herself in a bedroom laying on this thing. I tried to take it away, and it was 2 days of non stop anxiety and whining. Help, I miss my buddy :) Should I get another dog so she has company, or should I get her spayed? She is never around other dogs so I never saw the need, I was always afraid of complications of an elective surgery.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 2, 2012

      I would put the stuffed animal away in a closet or cupboard when she is not looking. Then, take her out to do her favorite things to distract her. Take her for a walk or to the dog park or to a favorite pet store. Or, work on tricks or training or play with toys she’s not quite so weird about. Or give her a bone or something to chew like a Kong toy. Just get her mind focused on something else.

      I’m guessing that getting her spayed would help, but you could talk to your vet about the options.

    • Richard Vaughn on May 10, 2013

      I’ve read many of the comments here about female dogs that obsess over toys and retreat with them….and change their behavior and become reclusive. This happens with female dogs who have gone through heat without getting pregnant and then have been spayed. It’s a symptom of “false pregnancy”….they’ll position the toy to nurse, they’ll sleep with them, keep to themselves, and they’ll be very protective. We saw our Yorky do all these things and she would even wag her tail and smile if you gently held the toy and fussed over it. It passes eventually…

  13. Rose on November 7, 2012

    I have a seven year old yorkie. She has lots of toys she plays with, but maybe about every 6 months or so she takes her little bear toy and carries it around with her. She sometimes wants to hide with it, but mostly wants to cuddle up with it in on the couch with me. She licks it constantly and gets alert when our other boy yorkie comes by her. She doesn’t snap at him unless he tries to take it off of her. This behavior usually lasts about a week or two. What is going on with my dog?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 8, 2012

      Is she spayed? Dogs typically go into heat twice per year, but even if your dog is spayed she may simply be acting out some sort of motherly instinct.

  14. louise proctor on November 23, 2012

    These comments have really helped..my dog, a border collie x usually gets lots of play and excercise. lately we have been busy decorating our home and the weather has been dreadful with heavy rain and flooding therefore she has not been able to go out. She started carrying her toy around and whining constantly. I thought she was feeling maternal but i now know she is purely frustrated at being pent up. I shall be doing alot more indoor play with her until the weather improves enough to venture out. Thanks

  15. Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 23, 2012

    I’m glad they helped! Thanks for reading!

  16. SC Swamp Guy on November 23, 2012

    I have 2 dogs Lucky a11yo10lb Boston Terrier and Mari Jane a 8mo 73lb Choc Lab. At Penn Valley KCMO dog park the day before Thanksgiving ’12 Lucky was bitten when she walked to close to a tennis ball. The dog’s owner said his dog had possession issues. His 80lb dog almost killed Lucky over a tennis ball that Lucky got to close to.
    Holidays at dog parks are stressful as owners that haven’t properly socialised their dogs show up and there are plenty of fights. The same thing happens on the weekends so be careful and watch your dogs.
    At Penn Valley the big dogs play rough but they don’t fight each other. It scares newcomers but most of the regulars use voice commands to control their dogs. Some of the beaches we go to state dogs have to be under voice command when off leash.
    Please train your dog before it hurts.

  17. Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 23, 2012

    Yes. All good points!

  18. Cindy Lou on November 28, 2012

    I have a 10 month old female yorkie, and she is doing some of the same things as above. I have hid the stuffed animal, she looked for it, but now is back at her mothers side!

  19. Lisa Ketchum on December 4, 2012

    My boxer was shot twice by a policeman. I was not home at the time so I cannot say what really happened but when I returned within minutes of this event, the gate had been opened by someone and she was let out of the back yard. I believe it was a neighborhood kid who had been taunting her by throwing sticks and rocks at her through the fence. I caught him several days before this and had words with him about how dangerous it is to taunt an animal of any kind. Long story short she has not been the same. That was almost a year ago though and now she has developed an obsession with a tickle me Elmo doll. She is crying and carrying it around. I can take it from her and she doesn’t growl or anything but her behavior is odd. For two or three days before she found the toy she had just been walking around crying. It may have nothing to do with being shot but she has never been the happy go lucky dog she was before that incident. Also she was recently in heat and her milk sac is almost like she has been pregnant and gone dry. Could she be mourning a miscarriage or do they experience those emotions? I don’t know what to think.

  20. Lisa Ketchum on December 4, 2012

    Also I should have pointed out that the policeman who shot her SAID she charged him but she had never had an aggressive bone in her body before this incident nor since. My grandson rides her like a pony.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 5, 2012

      Sorry to hear your dog was shot. That’s terrible.

      How old is she? I’ve heard of quite a few dogs that will obsessively carry around a toy during or around their heat cycles. Could it be that your dog is just a bit older and mature now and that is the reason for the change in her behavior?

  21. makenna on December 6, 2012

    my do is doing the same things but she is whining and shakeing and has swollen mamory gland but can never run free she got out once and we think she is pregnant and mated with a down the street dog that is always out she got out in october around halloween What should i do?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 8, 2012

      Take her to the vet to see if she is pregnant and get some advice for how to prepare for the puppies if she is.

  22. Stefani blanco on January 3, 2013

    Hi my dog just started doing the same thing recently . She is obsessed with her stuffed animal and everytime it squeaks she cries for it . I didn’t know it was unhealthy for a dog to do this. Could it be possibly that we haven’t taken her out lately because of the weather? Should I hide her stuff animal.? Thank you

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 10, 2013

      It could definitely be because she needs more exercise. Yes, I would hide the toy.

  23. Susan on February 24, 2013

    I just got a new 1-year+ old female dog from the humane society yesterday, and it’s obvious she had given birth not too long ago. She does wonderfully (she’s a hound mix, I think fox hound and maybe pointer) around the house so far EXCEPT she saw a stuffed bison sitting on the couch I got a few years ago from Yellowstone (my prized possession in remembrance of a wonderful trip) and she started “cleaning” it’s rear end and then just became totally obsessed with it; I have another very large stuffed German Shepherd on the floor next to my fireplace, and she started doing the same with it. I have put the stuffed animals in a closet that she can’t get to……my question is: is she missing her pups, and if so, what do I do about it if anything? I walk her regularly, she lays down on her bed near me, etc. Second question is: should I “replace” her lost pups with stuffed animals of her own, or would that make the withdrawals even worse? I did get her 2 chew toys–she’s not interested in chewing per se. I also gave her the only other stuffed animal I have, a pink panther doll (all stuffed, no hard parts) but she doesn’t want that like she is obsessed with the bison and the shepherd. My guess is it’s because those 2 and very similar in touch and feel to her actual pups, yes? Any help would be wonderful!! I just want her to be happy and not sad for her missing pups.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 25, 2013

      Just do other fun things with her and make sure her needs are met as far as attention, exercise and structure. Work on obedience and so on. I wouldn’t worry about her missing her pups. She will be OK, but I would keep those two toys put away for a few months.

  24. Susan on February 25, 2013

    Well, you didn’t really answer my question about what is driving her to obsess about the stuffed animals. I’m not worried per se, just want to know! My vet says it’s because a). she just got spayed, and/or b). she may have just had a litter of pups prior to spaying (no one knows her history). Both potential reasons are due to very high hormone levels which can obviously change a dog’s behavior into being more ‘motherly’ than when her hormones are not raging (kinda like people :)

    So now I know and will keep the stuffed animals out of sight until we feel she is more settled hormone-wise.

  25. anita on March 6, 2013

    hi,my bitch is a 18 month old springador (springer spaniel/Labrador).recently she has been acting very strangely around her teddies.she isn’t due a season for at least 3 months but is showing motherly instincts towards the toys.she carries them around and puts them either on my bed or in her basket.she whines and tries to lay on them.she growls if anyone goes near her when shes got them.is this normal?what can I do to stop the aggression and will she grow out of it?thank you.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 6, 2013

      I don’t have a lot of experience with non spayed females and their behavior related to heat cycles. You may want to talk with a trainer who has had experience with this. Or, contact the breeder where you got your dog if that is possible (I don’t know if you got your dog from a breeder).

      From what I have heard, it is normal for intact females to behave this way. It’s not a behavior I would encourage, though. I would probably remove the stuffed toy if she is showing aggression, and I would try to entertain her mind with other things such as obedience training, walks and play.

  26. Krista on April 21, 2013

    hello,

    my 5 yr old Chihuahua Terrier Mix has been carrying around a medium sized stuffed animal for the past 2-3 weeks she keeps it in her mouth when she barks and when she is laying down she puts it close to her tummy as if it were feeding from her. when she cant find it she whines and when she is trying to get comfortable in bed she goes around in circles for it could be 3-5 mins pushing the blankets away or trying to fix them to her liking but if she cant do it she cries, she hides under our bed and actually tore open a storage bag with my clothes in it and made a little bed/nest for her and her toy. it I cute but I believe something is going on with her and it kind of scares me, she has never acted this way before. even though she isn’t aggressive towards anyone that tries to take the toy or while she is playing, she may growl when playing tug o war but that’s with any toy, she is playful while running around in the backyard with our other dog which is a femle 4 yr old Valley Bull. The Chihuahua Terrier Mix is about 10lbs compared to the Valley Bull 30-60lbs and she is very dominate towards our bigger dog. But I don’t allow her to play with that toy with a child/adult to avoid any type of aggression that could possibly happen because its her favorite toy this month. just wondering could she be feeling lonely, and possible want to be a mother again or could she be ready to go into heat again? she was in heat about 3-4 mnths ago but I remember last year she went in heat in September or October and when she went in heat recently I was shocked at how close it followed her previous one. I am very curious as t what might be going on, Any help or suggestions are welcome! She is my baby!!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 21, 2013

      Dogs typically go into heat once in the fall and once in the spring, at least that is what I’ve generally read. It’s fairly normal for bitches to act this way with toys during heat or prior to going into heat, based on what others have told me. I would take the toy away if it were my dog and try to take her mind off it through working on obedience commands, giving her a Kong type toy to chew on or taking her for a walk. Is she possessive all the time or just around her heat cycles?

  27. Savanah on April 30, 2013

    Hello my 5yr old chi was spayed 1week ago since then she has been carrying her toy around. She hides it then cries until it is found. Nipping at our other male dog & my 3 month old baby. When we went for a walk she just cried the whole time till we went back for the toy, tried bring the toy with us she just tried to go home with it. Any ideas ?

    • Loretta Williams on May 9, 2013

      hello,my Lacey is a great dane and she got spayed about a week ago also and she’s been carrying around her toys also,,I haven’t found out why she started doing this but it is very frustrating..If you find out any info on your dog would you please let me know cause i’m very concerned..thank you.

  28. Tkaye on June 23, 2013

    Definitely a false pregnancy. I have a 9 and a half month pitbull that went through her 1st heat cycle more than a month ago. I watched her like a hawk and I know she’s not pregnant. She now doing the whole mothering thing. Gathering all her stuffed toys and piling them on my bed actually. She sleeps with them the whole day and soon as she sees you take one, youll have her undivided attention. Good thing is, she doesn’t growl when you take her toys, she actually brings them to me to have a look and hold it lol.
    I will definitely get her fixed soon as i don’t intend for her to have any pups anyway

  29. Anahy on July 11, 2013

    I understand that but my dog kinda acts like its her baby do you think she thinks she is prego ?

  30. Krista on March 22, 2014

    My dog is going through this as I type. I am worried for though. She has cut back on her eating time to spend time with her “babies”. We have tried taking her on walks (her favorite thing to do), giving her treats, spending more time with her, etc. but she insists on being with her toys. She hides in the corner and won’t come out. She wines all night and day long. I am just concerned if she could be starving herself to spend time with her “babies”. What can I do? Could this possessiveness lead to mental and physical harm?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 23, 2014

      You could call the vet and ask what is best. I’m thinking this will past in a week or two. You could try taking the toys away. I wouldn’t worry about her not eating. She will eat when she gets hungry enough, but make sure she is drinking water.

  31. jobo on April 7, 2014

    My choc lab started this a couple of days ago, she is almost 3 years old and the second time she has gone thru this. It only lasts a few days. She growled at our Golden Retriever when he got close to one of the “babies” she was curled up in the corner with. I have had choc labs for 20 years and this is the first one to do this, but i really feel she is having motherly instincts. I had my other ones bred around 2 years old, then spayed. I am thinking i am going to bred this one, and i feel like once they become a mother, they are alot less selfish and more obedient.

  32. Joe on May 4, 2014

    My puppy is so obsesed she spends every second laying on this cheap rubber hot dog wont chew it but she gets very agressive when anyonr aproches it shr even runbled at me once wgich she has nrver done she wont do it anymore but still will with everyone else ill put a stop to that thabks for the info

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